Ryanair has offered its pilots bonuses of up to €12,000 to buy back their leave and reduce the number of flights it has to cancel.
The offer, which comes with strict conditions, emerged as pilots across Europe were holding meetings yesterday and today over possible strike action.
Last Friday, Ryanair announced it is cancelling up to 50 flights a day for the next six weeks as it does not have enough pilots on standby to cover annual leave.
“To avoid further cancellations, we are requesting between one and two blocks of five days from every pilot who has already been assigned their month off,” Ryanair’s chief operations officer Michael Hickey wrote in an email to pilots.
Pilots must remain with the airline until this time next year in order to get the bonus, which will not be paid until November 2018.
“All current pilots [...] who remain operating Ryanair aircraft between September and October 31, 2018 will receive a once-off €12,000/£12,000 gross bonus for captains and €6,000/£6,000 for first officers in November 2018,” wrote Mr Hickey.
The year-long condition attached to the scheme is being interpreted as a way to keep pilots on staff, as more than 100 have defected to other airlines.
However, analysis published by the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA) yesterday emphasised the importance of pilot leave to reduce fatigue.
“European Regulations Flight Time limit (FTL) control the amount of time crew can fly so as to avoid fatigue both ‘on the day’ and cumulatively. In the case of pilots, the limits are 100 hours in 28 days or 900 hours per calendar year,” read the IALPA statement.
IALPA said Ryanair’s reasoning to cancel flights over pilot leave is “implausible” and that they knew this situation would arise as long as two years ago.
“In explaining the ongoing significant level of flight cancellations, Ryanair have claimed that they arise because of the need to allocate leave to pilots in the seven months from the old ‘calendar year’ date of April Fools day, before transitioning to the normal date of January 1.
“This seems a strange and unsustainable explanation as there is no EASA (European Aviation Safety Authority) requirement related to leave in the FTL regulations. It is equally implausible as they had at least two seasons’ notice of the new regulations in which to put their house in order,” read the IALPA statement.
In relation to compensation, Mr O’Leary said his airline will refund customers either with new Ryanair flights or monetarily in line with the European regulation EU 261, but it will not reroute people on rival carriers. A UK-based solicitor disagreed with the interpretation of the regulation. “The regulation does not say that rerouting has to be with the same air carrier — there is no authority at all to support such an interpretation,” said Coby Benson, of Bott & Co.
Meanwhile, Transport Minister Shane Ross has reminded Ryanair that the “responsibility for compensation” lies with the airline after his department contacted both the airline and the Commission for Aviation Regulation over the cancelled flights. “There are laws in place to protect consumer interests and provide for compensation. Airlines have obligations to look after passengers where failure to provide service arises from factors within their control,” he said.
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